Agribusiness & Food

Research program begins for “game changer” grain

Australia’s winter crop production prospects gave deteriorated thanks to unfavourable growing conditions in New South Wales and Queensland, according to the Department of Agriculture’s crop report.

A new $12.7 million national research project has been launched to support the integration of long coleoptile wheat into Australian farming systems.

The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) announced the four-year project, which will be led by Australia’s national science agency CSIRO.

Other research parties include the University of Melbourne, NSW Department of Primary Industries, QLD Department of Agriculture and Forestry (QLD DAF), SLR Agriculture, the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, the University of South Australia and EPAG Research.

The coleoptile is the protective sheath which encloses the emerging shoot and first leaves. The longer the coleoptile is, the greater the emergence potential when deep sowing. Long coleoptile wheats can be sown at depths of more than 10 centimetres, making better use of stored soil moisture.

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GRDC chair John Woods said long coleoptile wheat could be a ‘game changer’ for growers in low-to-mid rainfall zones, extending options for early sowing to meet the challenges of increasing enterprise sizes and changing climates.

“This project builds on decades of research by CSIRO and previous GRDC investment of approximately $11.5 million to introduce new climate-adaptive traits into commercial wheat varieties,” Woods said.

“The significant work to date by Dr Greg Rebetzke and his team at CSIRO has focused on identifying and sourcing new genes from across the world, and then assessing them in Australia under both laboratory and field conditions.

“This project addresses previously identified knowledge gaps around how these genetics perform across contrasting production environments, soils and farming systems, giving growers best practice guidelines for successful adoption.”

National trials will explore a range of genetic, environmental and management factors relating to long coleoptile wheat implementation including soil physical properties, crop protection and fertiliser placement, moisture and temperature, seeding machinery, soil amelioration treatments, pre-seeding operations, soil nutrition and disease, weed and pest control.

The project will also include the development of a common industry standard for measuring and defining the categories for wheat coleoptile length, for example, normal (80 millimetres), long (80-100 millimetres) and super long (100 millimetres plus). This will provide growers with a standard to inform variety choice and agronomic implications.

Lead researcher and CSIRO plant geneticist Greg Rebetzke said the project was working to mitigate sowing risks for growers and provide greater flexibility around time of sowing.

“Climatic modelling work using on-farm field and usage trials suggests a 20 per cent increase in yields from long coleoptile varieties,” Rebetzke said.

“That’s because sowing varieties that have the right fit for a farming system ensures crop growth coincides with climatic conditions to which the crop is best suited.

“For example, ensuring germination and seedling growth occurs at planting so that varieties flower at the optimal time for which they are bred and avoid those very hot, very dry conditions at the end of the season.”

Rebetzke said that with increasing climate variability, particularly rainfall variability, taking advantage of summer rainfall with early sowing would better optimise water productivity.

“With today’s changing climates, ensuring you’ve adequate moisture for germination in those top five centimetres of soil is increasingly risky for growers. Long coleoptile varieties should make this less of an issue into the future,” Rebetzke said.

“The goal here is more ‘crop for drop’ in sowing and getting the crop away at the right time of year, rather than risking delayed germination and delayed emergence.

“New long coleoptile wheat varieties are being developed and are close to commercial release. This project will create the supporting agronomic packages so growers can optimise their performance.”

The GRDC project Integrating long coleoptile wheat into Australian farming systems through an integrated understanding of genetics, management and environment is expected to be completed by the middle of 2026.

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